The Yorkshire Rebel

Harry Dixon Jessop was born at Meaux Abbey Farm in the East Riding of Yorkshire in 1844 and died in Middlesbrough in the North Riding of Yorkshire in 1909. He is buried in Linthorpe Cemetery in Middlesbrough. During his life, he worked as a farm labourer, a sailor, a stevedore, a shopkeeper and as a self employed businessman. Well so what Goober? Well, Harry Dixon also fought as a Confederate Cavalryman throughout the American Civil War until the very end when he was mustered out in May 1865. This is his amazing story.

Before 1858, Harry was a young farmer working in East Yorkshire but deciding that farming was not for him, he embarked on a naval career with a merchant ship in the nearby local port of Hull. The name of the ship is lost to history but it was bound for the Americas and by 1859, Harry was working on the Mississippi and by all accounts was happy and content with his new life. On 12 April 1861, the American Civil War broke out with the bombardment of Fort Sumpter in South Carolina. At first, the war didn't appear to affect Harry as he continued his work and avoided the conflict. However, by early 1862, the Confederacy was finding it difficult to recruit troops despite the early surge of volunteers and at the age of 18, Harry was conscripted into the Confederate States Army. His horse sealed his fate as the Confederacy desperately needed horses and men and he was enlisted in the cavalry on the July 1862 at Garlandsville, Jasper County, Mississippi. He joined Company C, 15th Alabama Partisan Rangers, a unit classified as a Mississippi unit in Confederate war records.

In 1862, there are limited records of Harry`s Unit but it was first assigned to the Army of the Gulf and later served in General Cumming`s Brigade at Mobile and acted as scouts and pickets against Union raids into Confederate Territory. In April 1863, Harry`s unit was transferred to north eastern Mississippi with about 350 men. Here they were attached to Brigadier General Daniel Ruggles 1st Military District in Okolona and between 15 May and 8 June 1863, the 15th Alabama was consolidated with the 56th Alabama Partisan Rangers. It was during this period that Harry`s unit was heavily involved in 2 engagements. Between 2nd May and 4th May at Kings Creek, Union forces mounted a raid into north eastern Mississippi. The raid of 5,000 Union troops was commanded by Colonel Florence M. Corbyn and was intended to threaten the important Mobile and Ohio railroad. It was driven back with Union losses of 15 to 20 killed and 30 to 40 wounded and rebel losses of 6 killed and 8 wounded. Between 13th and 22nd June, Union troops were involved in a series of further raids into north east Mississippi. The Union strength was only 500 men and Brigadier Ruggles was ordered to press and attack the enemy wherever found. It was at Mud Creek and Rocky Ford that the Confederates routed the Federals who had nearly 50 killed and all their baggage and ammunition lost. Confederate Reports indicate Harry`s Unit was heavily engaged throughout. On 28 August 1863, the 56th Alabama Partisan Rangers was re-organised into newly promoted Brigadier General Samuel Wragg Ferguson`s brigade.

In response to the Confederate victory at Chickamauga on the 20 September 1863 and to relieve the surrounded Union Army at Chattanooga, General Sherman led 17,000 Union troops from the Big Black river to Chattanooga. In response, Confederate General S.D Lee assembled a force including General Ferguson`s Brigade to oppose this march. Throughout October 1863, this force constantly harassed General Sherman by ripping up rail tracks and disrupting communications and baggage trains until he abandoned his plans. In November 1863, Ferguson`s brigade had returned to Okolona. Between November and December 1863, Ferguson`s brigade left Okolona and were ordered to attack Pocahontas, a small town on the Memphis Charlotte railway. Harry never talked about his experiences in the Civil War after the conflict due to painful memories but it is worth quoting a paragraph from Brigadier General Ferguson`s private papers (courtesy of Ferguson Private Papers) that occurred during this march that Harry must have endured :

"I had to push on a few miles to reach a camping ground with timber, when I reached it, some of the troops had to be taken off their horses, poor fellows they had cotton clothing only, and no overcoats nor blankets. The snow continued to the depth of several inches, the next day`s march accomplished but few miles, the snow balled the horses feet, all the time it got colder and colder, the night was one of great suffering. I was convinced that by this time the enemy was informed of my coming and that with their numbed hands the men could not fight nor load their muzzle loading pieces and so turned back, and my action was approved. I lost upwards of 300 hundred horses with lung fever contracted on the march, and some men from pneumonia."

In late January 1864, Brigadier General Ferguson`s Brigade was ordered to Crystal Springs to rendezvous with General S.D Lee as General Sherman and 20,000 Federal troops had begun his Meridian Campaign. The Confederates were ordered to intercept General Sherman`s advance. On 4th February, the forces met and Brigadier General Ferguson`s brigade along with the 2nd Alabama Cavalry and the 32nd Alabama Infantry clashed and a running battle ensued all day long at Champion`s Hill, Baker`s Creek and Bolton Depot. General Sherman`s advance was not stopped despite continual harassment by Ferguson`s Brigade and he entered Meridian on 14 February 1864.

In early May, Ferguson`s Brigade became part of General W.H Jackson`s Cavalry Division and was ordered to Alabama as part of the Army of Mississippi. On 8th May, Ferguson was ordered to report to General Joe E Johnston at Kingston, Georgia who was raising an army to oppose General Sherman who was massing his Union Troops along the Tennessee with the intention of marching on Atlanta. On arrival, the Brigade was sent directly to the front and was subsequently engaged on an almost daily basis. Although Harry rarely talked about his Civil War experiences, he did recall to his son how, during this fighting in the war, he and the rebel cavalry, would cover the infantry. He recalls how his brigade would dismount, with horse holders in the rear, and occupy the trenches in a very thin line whilst the infantry retired and fortified new positions in the rear particularly around Atlanta. He stated this occurred frequently as they continuously parried the enemy and sheltered in the trenches. He came across many torn and broken bodies felled by sharp shooters and on many occasions had to crawl over the shattered corpses of his friends and comrades. The 25 May saw major battles at New Hope Church and Kennesaw Mountain and once again Ferguson`s Brigade was heavily engaged. The rain poured incessantly and the soldiers suffered great hardships. Whilst falling back between 26 May and the 1st June, the Brigade fought in the trenches around Marietta. On 26 June, the Brigade attacked the rear of Sherman's Army and burnt the bridge over Noyes Creek, near Powder Springs. By 10th July, they were now attacking with General Wheelers rebel cavalry on the Confederate right flank. On 20 July, the Brigade was in action at Peachtree Creek and came off badly mauled. On 22 July, the Brigade attacked the town of Decatur on foot and captured it after house to house fighting. They later had to fall back and for the next several weeks fought around Atlanta particularly parrying the numerous Union raids along the 3 railroads entering the city. In the end, Ferguson's men covered the retreat of the Rebel Army as it became clear to the new Confederate Commander, General John Bell Hood that Atlanta would fall. They fought in the trenches between 1st and 2nd September as Atlanta was abandoned.

After the fall of Atlanta, General Sherman set out on his infamous "March to the Sea" on 14 November 1864 leaving the city in smouldering and blackened ruins. Due to a lack of resources, all the Confederates could do was harass General Sherman's march and Ferguson's Brigade attached to General Wheeler's under strength cavalry corps did exactly that on a day to day basis throughout the 300 mile march to Savannah. They picked up many Federal prisoners who were plundering and straggling as well as Union wagons sent out to collect forage. However, Sherman's march continued unabated and outside Savannah, once again, Ferguson's Brigade was in the trenches reinforcing weak spots before the inevitable siege began between 10th and 21st December. On 21st and 22nd December, the Confederates abandoned Savannah and Ferguson's Brigade acted once again as the rear guard.

After leaving Savannah, Ferguson's Brigade camped in the low country of South Carolina over the Christmas period where the Unit earned some well earned rest after the Dalton-Atlanta campaign. On 17 January 1865, Harry's Company C of the 56th Alabama Regiment was transferred to the 10th Mississippi Cavalry commanded by Colonel William Inge although still in Ferguson's Brigade and moved to Augusta in South Carolina to ascertain Union strength operating out of Charleston. They operated in this area from February to early April before being moved to Raleigh, North Carolina. On 19th April 1865, Ferguson met President Davis at Charlotte, North Carolina and were assigned escort duties from Charlotte to Washington, Georgia and accompanied the President throughout during these last days of the Confederacy. On 4th May, Ferguson was directed by General Breckinridge to discharge his men and on 5th May 1865, Harry's war ended having served the Confederacy loyally from the very day he was conscripted on 29July 1863 in Garlandsville. Ferguson's private papers state "for when the end came, more than one hundred and twenty remained true as steel, ready to follow the President wherever he may go! I have their names on the Confederate paper of the day, to me, a precious roll of honour." Harry's name was included.

Following the War, Harry was left alone in a defeated country. He travelled through the Southern states vulnerable, desolate and on foot as his horse that had carried him through the war had died. He was close to death when he eventually found shelter with an ex slave family called Harradine who nursed him back to health. He lived and worked with them for sometime before returning to the United Kingdom on a vessel called the Ocean Spray on 11 April 1866.

A number of entries in his diary before his death in 1909 may be of interest. In the 1901 United Kingdom Census, it was recorded that Harry and his family of 6 children lived with a Maria Harradine. His family state she was the daughter of the ex slave family who saved his life after the Civil War and when Harry met her at the docks of Hull she lived from that day forward as a member of his family. At the end of the War in 1865, it is also recorded that Harry came into possession of a personal pennant belonging to Confederate General S.D Lee. He held it in high esteem and no family member was allowed to touch it but one day someone attempted to clean it and due to its fragile old age it fell to pieces. Harry was devastated. Finally, just before his death, Harry received a communication from America stating that as a Confederate Veteran he may be entitled to a medal, The Southern Cross of Honour. An American friend who had informed him sent the Medal over just after Harry had died. However, it arrived just before his burial. His son placed it in his coffin just before he was interred. It lies today in his grave in the Linthorpe Cemetery in Middlesbrough, North East England.

Main Sources :

  • The Life and Times of Yorkshireman, Harry Dixon Jessop 1844 - 1909. Late of the Confederate States Army 1862 - 1865. Author Chris Carter 2010.
  • Brigadier General Samuel Wragg Ferguson's Private Papers

Article by Stewart "Goober" Douglas

The above article appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, Autumn 2012